Police want more cooperation by victims, witnesses amid deadly year

On a summer night in late July, just 40 feet from the front steps of a church at West Fourth and Elmira streets, numerous shell casings were spread throughout the intersection.

A block away, motorist Kerry Young, 37, struck in the head with one of several bullets that were fired at him as he drove west on West Fourth Street, was trapped as he lay critically injured in the front seat of his overturned Chevrolet sedan.

It was just after 7 p.m. on July 24 when city police and firefighters were dispatched to the crash, just west of Elmira Street. After Young was shot, his vehicle veered out of control, striking a parked car before flipping onto its passenger side.

Moments before the crash, police were called to the area to investigate a report of multiple gunshots being fired. Several witnesses saw the shooting and subsequent crash, city police said.

Firefighters — responding from fire headquarters on nearby Walnut Street — were out the door and on their way quickly, but hearing a police officer’s frantic voice on the radio as he waited for them to arrive communicated a clear sense of urgency.

Seeing the gravely wounded Young, but unable to get him out of the vehicle, the officer was heard asking a dispatcher, “From where are the firefighters responding?”

Firefighers pulled up on the scene in a matter of minutes, cut off the car’s roof and removed Young, who was loaded into the back of an ambulance and rushed to the Williamsport Regional Medical Center. There, he was pronounced dead about three hours later.

The alleged gunman, Thomas Matthews III, 22, fled to Lock Haven, where he died the following morning of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a lengthy standoff with law enforcement, according to investigators.

At the shooting scene in Williamsport, police recovered several pieces of ballistics evidence, “including multiple shell cases that were in the intersection of West Fourth and Elmira streets,” Agent Jason Bolt, the lead investigator, said in court records.

The sound of gunfire was heard in just about every city neighborhood during the summer months. Besides Young, three other people, including a customer at the Uni-Mart at 1944 W. Fourth St., were killed this year in shootings.

Customer Rhonda McPeak, 48, was killed and Uni-Mart clerk JoeBeth Wetzel was wounded during a robbery on the night of Aug. 4. Two men — the alleged gunman, I-Keem Fogan, and Noah Samuel Stroup, who allegedly acted as the lookout — are jailed and awaiting trial on homicide and assault-related charges.

The deadly shooting at the convenience store occurred just days after 16-year-old Ayliem Coleman was gunned down in the 900 block of Market Street about 1:30 a.m. on July 30. He was pronounced dead at the scene. No one has been charged in that shooting.

Another juvenile, 16-year-old Riley McDowell, of Williamsport, was shot to death at Fourth and Rural avenues during the early evening hours of Nov. 29. No arrest has been made in that case either.

Between January and mid-July, the city had just one reported shooting that resulted in a gunshot victim being treated at the Williamsport Regional Medical Center and discharged.

“It all started to break out in July,” a veteran city detective recently said, referring to the gun violence.

During the early morning hours of July 17, 19-year-old Corey Stewart-Richardson, of Williamsport, was shot in the head in the 600 block of Maple Street. He survived, but he has shared very little with investigators about what he knows about the person who shot him.

Before the teenager was loaded into an ambulance, a police officer, looking for some form of identification on the man, found 22 heat-sealed bags of marijuana on him, according to court records.

A second man, who was with Stewart-Richardson when he was wounded, Jamal Johnson, 25, allegedly removed at least one handgun, possibly two, from the teen after he was shot but before police arrived on the scene, court records state. Both men are awaiting trial on drug and firearm charges.

In the city’s East End, a 17-year-old boy was wounded in a shooting that occurred in the area of Almond and Meade streets on the night of July 28. The victim in that case has remained silent as the case goes unsolved.

In many incidents, “arrests have not been made because of uncooperative victims or witnesses,” said a second veteran city detective.

While it certainly is not the case in every shooting, in many incidents, surviving victims will not talk to investigators because they themselves are involved in criminal activity, detectives interviewed for this story said.

“It’s one our biggest roadblocks,” a third detective said. “It makes our job very difficult.”

“More times than not, we’re dealing with people who lie to us or they don’t talk to us at all,” the detective added.

Many of the victims “refuse to work with law enforcement even if it’s in their best interest,” said a fourth investigator.

Which means in a lot of incidents,“it slows our progression.”

“We don’t necessarily hit a brick wall,” he said. “We’re still able to continue to try to get information. We gather bits and pieces through other investigations by other means that I can’t discuss.”

He added: “We still try to grind on and make progress. It would be easier and quicker to bring people to justice if the victims would cooperate with us, but they don’t want to.”

That is not the case with every situation, though. Not every shooting victim is involved in committing crimes and many are helpful and cooperative with investigators, the detective said.

One such example, police said, is a man who was shot in late October on Hillside Avenue in the city’s Newberry neighborhood. The victim survived but no arrest has been made.

“You can’t paint everything with a broad brush,” the detective said.

In some families, the mindset of not talking to cops is “passed on from one generation to another,” one detective said.

“Some folks advise their own kin to not cooperate. ‘Don’t talk to the police.’ We see that a lot of times,” another investigator said.

A handful of shootings have occurred at isolated locations, “under the cover of night, and in places and at times when you’re not going to have witnesses present who are willing to testify,” the detective said.

However, he noted that was not the case when Young was killed or when McPeak was slain in the convenience store.

It is not at all uncommon for officers to be dispatched to an outdoor shooting only to find that when they arrive, everyone involved has already left the scene, including the person or persons who were fired at but not injured, according to detectives.

A little more than eight weeks after Young was killed at West Fourth and Elmira streets, detectives were back at the same location collecting shell casings left behind by a gunman who fired at a Chevrolet Cruze driven by Daniel Miller about 12:45 a.m. Sept. 20.

Riding with him was Kavaughn Williams. Miller later discovered a bullet had struck the car.

On the same day, about 12 hours later at 12:50 p.m., as the two men were riding together in the same vehicle in the area of Wildwood Boulevard and High Street, three other men were playing basketball at an outdoor hoop.

As Miller, who was driving, was turning onto Wildwood Boulevard from High Street, Williams, 18, of Williamsport, pulled out a gun and fired at the three men, police said. Miller, who has not been charged with any offenses, sped away. None of the three playing basketball were injured, and they all bolted from the scene before officers arrived, according to investigators.

Only one of the three men who were shot at has been identified publicly and that was only after he was arrested on Sept. 23 by an officer with the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit for allegedly carrying a stolen gun that was loaded.

As Tahjair Dorsey, 18, was running from the officer in the area of Hepburn and Louisa streets in the city about 11:45 a.m., a handgun he allegedly had in his possession fell to the ground. Dorsey and a second man were nabbed and the gun was recovered. When investigators ran the serial number of the weapon, they learned it had been stolen in Georgia.

While in custody, Dorsey, of Durham, North Carolina, admitted to an investigator that he was carrying the gun “to protect himself against whoever shot at him at Wildwood Boulevard and High Street,” according to court records.

Dorsey is behind bars and awaiting trial on felony firearm charges. Williams is also jailed and awaiting trial on charges of attempted homicide and related offenses.

Another shooting that occurred in broad daylight took place in the 600 block of Green Street about 1 p.m. Nov. 2.

“Someone was shooting at someone else,” Police Chief Damon Hagan said. A bullet struck the north side of a nearby building, he said.

“Everyone who was involved had fled prior to officers arriving on the scene,” he said. No injuries were known to have occurred in that shooting, he added.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today